Scientists Discover ‘Dark Galaxy’ That Could Reveal Mysteries Of The Universe


Scientists have for the first time managed to identify the features of an extremely distant celestial body – a mysterious galaxy that eludes even the most sophisticated instruments like NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Galaxies come in many different shapes and sizes, but the basic components appear to be fairly consistent. There’s usually a large black hole at the center, a bunch of stars and gas, and a generous helping of dark matter tying it all together. While the dark matter is, well, dark, the stars, gas, and swirling core of heated material stand out with the radiant beauty of a city at night. However, a newly discovered dwarf galaxy at a distance of “only” 94 million light-years defies these expectations. It is called FAST J0139+4328 and does not emit optical light. In fact, it hardly emits any light.

What the heck is that?  – "Mini galaxy" seen over Hawaii

What the heck is that? – “Mini galaxy” seen over Hawaii

FAST J0139+4328 appears to be a so-called dark galaxy. Apart from a small number of stars, it consists almost entirely of dark matter. This was found by a team of researchers led by astrophysics PhD student Marika Giulietti from the Italian research facility Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (Sissa) in Trieste using the ALMA interferometer in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The results of the study were published in the journal The Astrophysical Journal published.

The scientists themselves describe the galaxy as a “mysterious and very distant object” that is “so dark that it is almost invisible even to sophisticated instruments”. FAST J0139+4328 is said to have originated only 2 billion years after the Big Bang, which scientists estimate took place around 13.8 billion years ago. To better understand the newly discovered galaxy, the team used a technique known as gravitational lensing. It is one of the most productive methods for studying the distribution of dark matter, the evolution of galaxies, and other aspects of cosmology and astrophysics.

The principle behind this is simple: general relativity states that closer objects in space have a large mass that distorts light from far away sources that are ideally aimed at them. In this way, large celestial bodies act like a kind of giant cosmic lens, making the “background” galaxies appear larger and brighter so that they can be identified and studied. About a hundred galaxies have been discovered this way so far, but there could be many more. In one of these investigations, Giulietti is quoted in a press release by Sissa, the main object of the present study was determined.

Astronomers capture record-breaking radio signal from an extremely distant galaxy

Astronomers capture record-breaking radio signal from an extremely distant galaxy

“This is a very special celestial body. It is very bright and possibly subject to lensing, but this only occurs at certain wavelengths, which is probably due to the presence of large amounts of interstellar dust. It is therefore very complex to study,” says Giulietti. After evaluating the data collected by the ALMA interferometer, the scientists working with Giulietti received the first indications of the distant galaxy, which is evidently rich in gas and dust. “Our analysis has shown that this object is very compact, probably young and with an extremely high rate of star formation,” explained the scientist.

For researchers, the galaxy has been incredibly difficult to find for a variety of reasons. First, FAST J0139+4328 is very compact and therefore difficult to observe. “In addition, due to the great distance, we only receive very weak light from her,” explained Giuletti. “The cause of this dimming is the massive presence of interstellar dust, which intercepts the visible light from young stars, making it difficult to see with optical instruments, and re-emits it at longer wavelengths where it can only be detected by powerful sub-millimeter interferometers – and radio wave range can be observed.”

Possibly water present: News from an exoplanet

Possibly water present: News from an exoplanet

Therefore, the research team led by Giuletti studied the object using special codes that allowed them to reconstruct the original shape of the background source and also to understand certain properties of the lens itself. The observations also provided valuable information about the gas content of this galaxy and how it is distributed. “Our analysis has shown that this object is probably very young and is forming stars at an extremely high rate,” Giulietti explained. “In the future, the James Webb Space Telescope will reveal much more about this galaxy.”

Professor Andrea Lapi, co-author of the study, concluded by underscoring the importance of the latest discovery. “Distant galaxies that are young, compact, feature active star formation, are largely obscured by dust, and have very rich reservoirs of molecular gas are progenitors of the massive dormant galaxies we see in the local Universe and therefore offer very valuable insights into the processes that led to the formation and evolution of these structures throughout the history of the cosmos.” He added:

I would like to emphasize that the success of this research is achieved thanks to the synergy between the SISSA group of Astrophysics and Cosmology and the ALMA Regional Center at INAF – Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bologna (in particular through the collaboration with Dr. Marcella Massardi, co-author of the study). which allowed our students to gain access to the ALMA data archive and learn how to use it effectively – a real goldmine for today’s astrophysics research.”

Soon, ALMA will provide data on another, far-off invisible galaxy – a galaxy that may turn out to be a “massive monster.” Shining the light on such distant celestial objects helps scientists better understand how galaxies form and evolve.

More on the subject – Study: Extraterrestrial life in our galaxy “much more likely than initially thought”

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